The former chair of the Sechelt Hospital Foundation has been appointed Vancouver Coastal Health’s (VCH) director for the Sunshine Coast, and as of Nov. 8 that position has been made permanent.
Gerry Latham was hired in August as the interim director after Lauren Tindall resigned from that role to pursue another opportunity in Ontario. Latham agreed last Friday to stay on permanently.
As director, Latham oversees the delivery of health services on the Sunshine Coast, as well as making strategic decisions about health care here. “It’s a complex portfolio,” Latham told Coast Reporter from her office at Sechelt Hospital. Acute care, home care, long-term care and public health on the Sunshine Coast fall under her domain.
To get the job done, the former nurse will rely on more than 40 years of experience working in health care in New Brunswick, Ontario, Alberta and B.C., including in senior roles at VCH.
Latham moved to the Sunshine Coast in 2008 and commuted to Vancouver General Hospital, where she worked as executive director until 2010. She then took up various consulting roles with VCH and was later hired as the interim director of clinical services on the Sunshine Coast until the completion of the hospital expansion. She formally retired in 2013, and took on other roles in the community, such as president of the Sunshine Coast Botanical Garden Board and chair of the Hospital Foundation. She served on that board for six years, stepping down last June, before taking another leap in her health-care career.
“When the opportunity came up this time, I looked at it and thought, I can do that. It was interim. Now that I’m in it, I’m enjoying it,” Latham said. “My passion is health care, it has been my entire life.”
As director, Latham is in charge of pushing for services needed on the Sunshine Coast and identifying areas of improvement.
Supporting staff and physicians is a key priority for Latham. It’s also been a challenge on the Sunshine Coast. Last year, a psychiatrist pulled his services at the emergency room citing safety concerns. VCH has since crafted an action plan to deal with the issues. “We look at safety issues, we look at recommendations that come from incidents such as that,” Latham said. “And changes get made.”
Some of those changes she hopes will come in the form of capital upgrades.
Seniors and those with mental health and substance use needs remain the two populations on the Sunshine Coast most in need of services, said Latham, and VCH has already announced preliminary plans to repurpose residential care facilities Totem Lodge and Shorncliffe – the former to be outfitted with mental health inpatient and outpatient services and the latter redeveloped to serve dementia patients.
Those projects, however, are on hold until the proposal by Trellis Seniors Services to build a long-term care facility in the District of Sechelt moves ahead. VCH confirmed on Oct. 25 that the application with the District will be reactivated.
VCH’s – and by extension Latham’s – involvement with the project is also effectively on hold until Trellis gets the municipal approvals to move ahead. “We need more long-term care beds and we need Trellis to be opened now. And so we’re managing in the meantime,” she said, referencing a 12-bed transitional unit opened in April to ease the pressure.
The Ministry of Health has also provided extra funding for home support in the last year.
“There is a focus right now, trying to care for folks in their home,” Latham said. “If you’re elderly and you just need support … [it’s] better to do it at home and have care come to you. That’s what the ministry is trying to help with,” she said, adding they have a “very solid growing team here on the Coast,” thanks in part to a program at Capilano University, to which the Ministry of Health contributed funds for tuition and textbooks.
“Between those strategies and the extra beds in-house, I think we’re OK right now. That doesn’t take away the desire to get Trellis opened and up and running as quickly as we possibly can.”